Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

A “bunch of A-holes” band together in a post-plot ramble through the Galaxy

Image by Cakes and Comics
Image by Cakes and Comics

Surprising everyone in the Hollywood Galaxy, Guardians managed to blossom in an otherwise down time for the box office. Sitting behind Avengers and Iron Man 3 as the most successful Marvel enterprise to date, the film demonstrated that with the right marketing campaign and a new take on plot, even characters on the fringes of the Marvel master class can find mainstream appeal. James Gunn delivers a thrill ride – fun and exciting, but leaving many scratching their heads over the details.

The film opens on a Rocketman-outfitted mercenary working his way through an Indiana Jones-like ruin, avoiding booby-traps and ultimately discovering a treasure hidden deep in a temple. The quest to offload this artifact leads him into a cast of odd characters, who by a common enemy are united. This band of misfits (in every sense of the word) finds themselves in the middle of an intergalactic conflict, with a warlord on their trail out for revenge, and no clue how to save the galaxy.

Gunn and Co. found their niche in invoked nostalgia. Coming as one of the first collaborations of Disney-owned Marvel, its no surprise they played to their strengths, though the target demographic seems an odd choice for either pairing. Of course the novelty of a talking raccoon and tree Abbot and Castello pairing, as well as the sci-fi crossover with a comic property, draws the 18-35 crew in droves. Yet, with a carefully selected soundtrack of 70s/80s nostalgia, Guardians seems to be extending a Groot branch to the older demos, attempting to bring in the last group to adopt the cinematic superhero as their own. This move shows promise for the future of the diluted Marvel prospects for the future.

Many have already commented on the plot not requiring total coherence for one to enjoy the film. The background conflict is practically non-existent, bordering on a White Hat/Black Hat approach to expositing the good from the bad. A specialty of the film is subverting special plot moments – typified best in the great rally the troops scene towards the end. As each team member reluctantly joins the new squad, standing to show their solidarity, the touching moment is spoiled by a one-liner, dissolving the cathartic bond into a “let’s just do it” attitude. All this to the film’s betterment; by subverting the traditional plot beats, the film finds its identity in the nonconformity of its heroes.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun film that requires a little focus, ultimately an exercise in excitement, rather than serious reflection. Quite the adventure itself, this sci-fi/Superhero crossover demonstrates interesting new prospects for the future of the genre and for the merger of Marvel and Disney. Already on track to have its own animated TV series and an inevitable sequel, $739 million spells many more adventures for the galactic protection squad.

——————————

http://marvel.com/guardians

Advertisements

Film Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

A decent toss from the Marvel Cap, but it feels more like a midseason episode than a standalone feature film.

WinterSoldier

A polished and structured entry into the popular Superhero film genre, Captain America: The Winter Soldier suggests that the Marvel phases are reaching the peak of the Bel Curve and are beginning to rely on their own internal structure more than a single entry can handle.  Though it possesses a brilliantly chosen tone and performances which raise the bar, the film dilutes its suspense with a secret everyone knew and stakes that flounder on their own.

The Winter Soldier brings Captain America out of the war to end all wars, and drops him straight into the drama of the Cold War.  Starting two years after the events of Avengers, Steve Rogers (Evans) struggles to find purpose in his efforts as he questions his trust of Nick Fury and SHIELD.  Just as his doubts reach a head, a mysterious assassin from the East arises and threatens to take down the whole establishment.  Rogers becomes a fugitive of his own organization when a meeting with Defense Secretary Alexander Pierce (Redford) goes south.  Trust and loyalty are tested as the Captain and Black Widow (Johansson) go on the run to discover the identity of the Winter Soldier and the source of the discord in SHIELD’s ranks.

Born with one of the most open secrets in Superhero movies to date, this film fails to bring normal audiences on a mysterious journey of discovering who the villain is.  The wonderful tension and build up of the political drama forming at SHIELD is dampened by the clunky exposition needed to set up a reveal most came into the film knowing – comic book fan or otherwise.  Further, without the extended reach of this narrative into other films and the Agents of SHIELD television series, the stakes fall rapidly as they become self-contained, leaving the film in the superhero tar pit of knowing the hero will win.

However, the decision to lift the Captain out of his greatest generation and drop him into the suspense of Cold War trust issues and modern day surveillance worries was a brilliant move.  Capitalizing on current technology concerns, the film smartly keeps the Captain in his element while allowing for some Revisionist questions to be asked of the hero organization. Redford gives a wonderful performance, perfectly cast to lend the film credit towards that era’s suspenseful tone.  Further, the integration of Anthony Mackie as the Falcon was tactfully handled and felt organic to the narrative.

Yet, this film ultimately leaves the impression of being episode two in a miniseries, only part of a larger narrative being spelled out as the Marvel Phases.  While a structurally sound film with good performances and decent writing, one cannot help but doubt that it would matter much without its ties to other franchises and mediums, making this reviewer wonder how many people came for the Captain and how many only for the post-credits stingers?

—————————————

http://marvel.com/captainamerica#/home

Whedon = New Nolan (until DKR)

Yes. I saw Avengers.
Yes. I saw it opening night.
Yes. I am still suppressing my internal organs’ desire to explode with joy.

Like the other $207.4 million of us, I went to see The Avengers on opening night.  The difference between the Costumed Nerds of the Night and myself was that I had extremely low expectations for the film.  None of the trailers had particularly wowed me and for the most part I expected a lot of things to go horribly wrong.  However, as I am sure you have surmised from every other review out there right now (and the $207.4 million 3-day gross), it actually turned out to be…well…not so terrible after all.

When trying to write this review, the main challenge I faced was that I thought the movie was spectacular…and so did everyone else.  As my friend Ryan has said, no point in calling something awesome when everyone else does.  So, the challenge was to find what I could say about it that few other reviews could.  Thus, the only place to start my review is to say that I really didn’t think this film would make any decent, let alone outstanding, impression on me.

You can ask nearly anyone in the APU film department and they will tell you that I had a real problem with this film well before it hit.  Namely, I could not understand how any filmmaker could pull off having so many big name characters (and stars) in one movie.  Like some around me, I figured it would turn into the Super Sausage-fest of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, with every other character being asked by audiences and critics alike – “Why are you in this movie?”

I expected Hulk to be a fun yet underdeveloped Boy Wonder to the Super Crew’s Batman.  While the trailers showed him doing some cool things, never in a million years would I have guess that their would be character development behind “Hulk? Smash.”

Also (and much more prominently), I had every intention of blasting Avengers in my review for being incredibly misogynistic in portraying Black Widow.  I have never been happy with the way the Iron Man franchise has portrayed women as helpless damsels in distress or, in the case of the Russian super-assassin in number 2, as a crude bit of sex appeal grafted onto a perfectly good film.  Thus, going into the male-dominated and over-populated super blockbuster that is The Avengers, I didn’t have high regard for how under-towed her character was surely going to be.

“And why the hell is Hawkeye even in this film?” thought my pre-screening brain.

Thank God!

However, I made one VERY massive mistake:  I failed to account for Joss Whedon.  I was not a Whedonite before seeing this film and, though I am watching Firefly this summer, I had no idea who this guy is.  Ryan and several others in my department seemed to be infatuated with him but I was in the dark.  So when he struck every chord perfectly, I was in cinematic shock for a week!

In case you have been living in another galaxy totally devoid of internet connection or television, the film is AMAZING!!!  It is extremely well balanced for any film, let alone one that has six above the line stars.  Whedon somehow managed to make the action fantastic, the character development compelling, and the humor hilarious!  The Nostalgia Critic got it right in his Bum Review:  “This is the greatest movie I have ever seen in my life!”

Okay maybe not that extreme but you get my drift.  I came in expecting something like Transformers 3 – a lot of fun and crazy action but little to no substance holding it up.  And yet I found the exact opposite.  As to the problems I expected to find, each one was beautifully handled and I dare to call it masterful.

What got my attention the most was that, instead of being filler characters or faces to pretty up the screen, the Black Widow/Hawkeye thing became the most interesting part of the film.  Partially that is due to the extremely low expectations I had for them coming in, but it is also, in part, because Whedon found the ONE AND ONLY way to make them both fascinating.  He actually stayed very true to the comics by having them in a very complicated relationship and gave them very excellent roles to play in the overarching narrative.  I am going to avoid spoilers but sufficed to say, “Scowly Arrow” plays a major role in the film as does my new favorite Russian assassin (sorry Felix Yusupov).

Beyond that, Hulk was handled very well.  Not spoiling anything, Banner’s story picks up AFTER the events of the other two movies (basically).  He references tearing up New York (Norton’s film) and draws his character from that backstory, which is really excellent.  It gives his character instant depth, both in the world of the story and internally, which is what he was sorely lacking.  Mark Ruffalo did a great job of bringing the clearly difficult character to life and making him fascinating.

The other thing that caught me off guard (besides the wit and general unexpectedness of the film as a whole) was the fact that Loki was actually a scary villain.  My problem with Superman and any team of Superheroes ever is that, much like Dragon Ball Z, enemies can only be ridiculously overpowered destruction mongers who for no reason want all of existence to end (cf – Doom, Lucifer, Kang the Conquerer, Thanos).  However, Whedon and Co. found the perfect way to thwart that trend by going with a villain who is physically inferior to the Avengers in every way.  Thus, Loki – God of Mischief – uses his rhetorical skills and superior mind to manipulate and connive his way to victory.  I love what Hiddleston did with the character and his words did much more for me than any super-punch from a giant alien titan could.  His craftiness was bewildering and his childish glee at rendering “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” incapable makes him one of my favorite villains ever.

Ultimately, I can do nothing but add one more “This film is awesome!” to the pile and say a hearty well done to the filmmakers for completely thwarting my expectations.  Everything in the film was well handled and seeing it at the midnight premiere is now one of my favorite movie-going experiences of all time.  Hat’s off to Whedon and Paramount for kicking off Le Summer Du Cinema in spectacular fashion.

Rating:  10//10

What did you think of the Avengers?  Did the expectations I had match up with some of yours or were you on board with them the whole time?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below and discuss exactly why this film is so awesome. 🙂

Welp, that’s one review down.  But believe me, there are plenty more on the way.  Thus far this summer, I have seen at minimum one film per day and so I have a lot of reviews to catch up on.  You can expect the next one early next week and we will see how it goes from there.  Just as a little teaser as to what is next, I leave you until next time with this clue:  “Coffee Mug Bong”.

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!

Not so much “With Avengence”

This will actually be a double review and it will contain spoilers for both.  You have been warned….

In the past week I have had the pleasure (or misfortune) of seeing the final two films leading up to the big Avengers movie:

THOR  &  Captain America

I was really looking forward to both films quite a lot.  The deep mythology of Thor drew me to his film but they did a very poor job conveying a believable hero.  And when I heard they were making a war film that happened to have Captain America in it….well, that was just too great to miss!  But when I got far more hero than war, I was just as let down as I had been with the other Avenger movie.

In a nutshell, here is what went wrong:
“Both films were treated as set-up movies – necessary exposition standing between Marvel Enterprises and larges piles of mone….I mean a well-crafted franchise – rather than their being made for the great stories that they are in of themselves.”

I will take them one at a time and show exactly what I mean, starting with The God of Thunder and then discuss the third (I mean First) Avenger. Let’s go!

THOR

In case you haven’t figured this out about me, I like to know a little bit about everything – just enough knowledge to make intelligent conversation while not spoiling the magic of discovering it.  This trait of mine can be particularly seen in my understanding of the Comic Book Universes.  I knew about the base of Thor’s mythology being founded in actual Norse legends. I thought this was a fantastic way to build a backstory – take that which is already half-believed and add just a little extra fiction. Stir and bake at 350 for twenty minutes and you’ve got a great way to start a superhero tale.

Having said that, I went into the movie hoping that they would show that vast mythology behind him, show his character develop, and show why I should be worried about an oversized carpenter 🙂

What I got was a film poorly made in nearly every aspect.  The CG was terribly fake and the makeup of the Ice Giants reminded me of the Devil from Tenacious D.  For the character who mattered, it was not believable at all and ultimately this did more to set up the coming film than to make this one stand out of the crowd.

My major issue with the film is that it is called Thor, it stars Thor, is about Thor, yet Thor is the least logical and least interesting character in the film.  He is an arrogant, spoiled…murderous child at the beginning. I liked the banishment scene, but after that he makes a complete 180 in the course of, like, 3 days on earth!  He is a jerk, his friends arrive and the Destroyer tags along, then “Thor Good!”  It leaves you and me wondering “why we should suddenly root for a guy who has only shown himself to be a jerk?”  Not what we should be thinking about your protagonist…

Three good notes to mention:
First, they did have a great introduction with Odin explaining the backstory.  I thought it worked well and it gave me just enough to understand the plot.  I wish they had developed it a bit more but to be honest they gave us what we needed.

Second, the blending in and performance of the Shakespearian-esque dialogue was good. Branagh really did do it justice there. It fit in very well with the regular English.  To be honest I only noticed it when the movie was half over.  Really top notch work.

Third, and most importantly, I want to give a HUGE shoot-out to Tom Hiddleston for his incredible portrayal of Loki!!!  He took a very hard role and in my opinion gave something close to an Oscar-worthy performance. I was honestly fooled by his acting within acting as he lied to Thor about their father.  Loki is known as basically the father of misdirection – he is the embodiment of mischief and distraction – and Hiddleston really captured that so well. Truly a show stealer!

However, despite all of those positives, I just can’t get over how unlikeable Thor is.  He is worse than Stark if you ask me.  Also, the ending left me wondering “Wait.  What was the problem again?”  It was so anticlimactic and really made me question why I’d come to see it at all.  Poor story structure that fulfilled the job it meant to do – tell me just enough about Thor to know who he is in the Avengers.

Ultimately, not worth my money.  It was Pre-Avengers part I.  The only positives I can claim from seeing it was that I saw it with a friend, who generously paid for my ticket, and that he only paid $1.50 for it 🙂  FINAL ASSESSMENT:  5/10

Captain America

Again, I really went into this excited.  What I knew pre-screening was that the Capt was created in the midst of WWII, that his enemy was Redskull, that he was Batman-esque in that he has no super powers, and that he was frozen in the arctic and was rediscovered in modern day. What I was looking for in this film was the artistic push for the War Film feel – something like Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan.  While I can appreciate it as a hero film, I was still very let down by how little war factored into it.

Basically all of the focus of the film was on the creation of the Captain which, I grant, is important. However I would say than nearly 60 of the 124 minutes were spend on building him from lowly Steve Rogers (what kind of a Captain’s name is “Steve” anyway?) to the pop-icon (Mr. Rogers to you) to his full embodiment as Captain America.  You don’t need to spend that much time on the appetizer if it means sacrificing part of the meat and potatoes of the thing.

I want to make it clear:  I do like the story of how he becomes Captain America.  What I don’t like is that the reason the focus was there was because the film’s purpose is to set audiences up for who he is in the Avengers.  Instead of getting some truly great battles and fighting when people begin to follow him, we get a bare-boned montage to advance us from A to B.

And please, don’t EVEN get me started on the ending.  I loved that he woke up in a falsified environment, that he bust out and ran amuck in downtown NYC. That was great.

What wasn’t great was EVERYTHING ELSE!!!  There is not musical ramp, which leads to no emotional ramp.  The Nick Fury monologue has no power – no punch.  It comes down to a really bleeping one-liner that your grandmother might think is “cute”, but it is so lacking of anything cathartic, spectacular or engaging. The ending was such a letdown and it truly ruined that which I had liked about the film (the exposition) because it didn’t go anywhere.
Pre-Avengers part II.  FINAL ASSESSMENT:  5/10

That is…it doesn’t go anywhere OTHER than straight into:

Unlike Ironman which was made for its own story, Thor and Captain America were made to get us to this film.  Instead of 3 A+ movies that would lead up to a great junction film, we get an A & two C’s that will lead to a horrible pile of crap. Here is why:

How is The Avengers supposed to be a good movie when you are tying 4 major characters (1 well-defined, 3 poorly so), multiple minor characters (not defined at all), and all of their villains into one two-&-a-half hour movie?  You don’t. At least not well.

Thus far we have Downey doing his thing, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth stepping in, and OH YEAH! Mark Ruffalo out of nowhere in as the Hulk.  Besides the challenge of bringing them all together under one leadership, there is the well known and rather important power struggle between Stark and Rogers. How is Joss going to bring them all together under one roof?

Btw: Hawkeye and Black Widow are supposed to be in it….yeah….  Sorry Scarlett and Renner, but you are going to become Deus Ex Machina for the real stars. Yup. (Pardon while I wipe the sarcasm off my brow)

I do have one positive note. The only confirmed villain is Loki from the Thor series.  Good call because Red Skull is dead as are the biggest and best Ironman villains, and Loki is not just a great villain but a great character in general.  I look forward to seeing more Hiddleston, and I applaud Marvel or whomever made the decision to set up Loki as The Villain for the Avengers (at least the first one….uggg).

There has been a recent news break that there will be some short films released leading up to the Avengers, presumably setting up Hawkeye and Black Widow.  Personally I think they should have done more of that stuff.  Really they should have gone with something like an HBO miniseries about the forming of the group – taking there time to really set up the situation well.  Then you could let the movie focus on the epic battle rather than petty squabblings of a newly formed super-Glee club.

In case you haven’t picked up on it, I really don’t expect much from the Avengers movie.  It has too much that needs to happen and far too little time to develop it properly.  All I can say is “Good Luck, Joss” and “Enjoy your swimming pools of money, Marvel.”

Thanks guys!  Hope you enjoyed the review. Please let me know what you think in the comments below – particularly what you expect from the upcoming Avengers movie.  So, until next time, stay thirsty my friends. 🙂

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!